Friday, 17 July 2015

Brian Hall

The radio this morning announced the death through leukaemia of a former school friend Brian Hall. He is mainly remembered in the press for playing 222 times for Liverpool FC and there are generous tributes from many of his former team mates. Brian lived in the same housing estate and was a year ahead of me at both primary and grammar school. At primary school he had that rare combination of being both very clever and excelling at football. He was capable of dribbling round the entire opposition team and the three tree stumps that acted as extra defenders in the school playground.

At the grammar school we were in the same house and when I arrived he had already established himself as the right winger for house and school. It was my position and misfortune because there was no way of ever taking Brian's place and I was forced to play left wing or inside right. Despite this I never had anything but admiration for Brian for both his amazing skills, modesty and his friendship as we occasionally travelled to school together by bike or bus.

He also excelled at gymnastics and as scrum half in the rugby team, which at least allowed me to play on the wing at rugby. At football Brian was from another planet. His low centre of gravity, close ball control, shimmying skills and even temper ensured that he was the first name on any team sheet. Every Monday morning in school assembly the results would be announced, Brian was usually on the score sheet but that did not include his assists that were a key part of his game. He would have broken the Opta performance records for both dribbles and assists had they existed then.

Brian's last ever sporting event at school was the senior 4 x 440 yard relay between the 4 houses, chance for him to leave on a high as house captain. I was asked to run the third leg in the hope that we could pass on a winning lead to Brian who was to take the final leg. I managed to pull us back and hand over a reasonable lead but Brian was not the fastest and despite him giving 100% as always we were narrowly beaten into second place. The whole team were gutted because he had been an inspiration to us all and he deserved to go out on the high that he had earned from his sporting achievements. Brian was unperturbed and said that running was not his thing but thanked us all for trying to get him to win on his final appearance at school sports.

He went to Liverpool University and after obtaining a degree in Mathematics signed as a full time professional for Liverpool. I went to Liverpool University as a post graduate at the time he was breaking into the Liverpool first team. Initially I alternated between watching Everton, who were champions at the time, and Liverpool. But as Brian became a regular in the team I went to watch him at most home games swaying in the Kop and enjoying the raucous humour. Brian was called little Bamber by his team mates to distinguish him from big Bamber - Steve Heighway. They had both had the temerity to obtain degrees, a rare qualification for professional footballers. Watching them weave their magic along with Peter Thomson, whom I had watched develop in the North End Youth team, I became a lifelong Liverpool fan.

On Friday evenings Brian would sometimes give me a lift home to Preston and we would meet up later for a couple of pints. In those days this was not unusual for footballers, even on the night before a game. Bill Shankley seemed to accept it as a way of the players relaxing the night before a big game. Brian had a fund of wonderful stories about Shankley, whom he revered up to a point but also thought was slightly crazy. Shankley had coached Brian to become more of a one touch midfield team player and we were denied the chance to watch a dribbling talent that was akin to Jimmy Johnstone.

After his time at Liverpool he played for Plymouth Argyll and Burnley before retiring from football and becoming a manager of Leisure services in Preston and then Head of PR for Liverpool Football Club. I met him shortly after he retired as a professional footballer at the start of the first Preston half marathon. Brian was modest as ever about his successful career as a professional footballer and when I told him that this was my first competitive race since leaving school he encouraged me to realise my running ability. I was struck by his advice and it was the start of my belated passion for running that has now extended to 30,000 miles with none of the long term injuries that most professional footballers are afflicted by at my age..

I am sure that everyone who met or had the privilege of playing, watching or working with Brian would agree that he always thought about others, he had a talent that was only exceeded by his modesty and he was a gentleman, even as a boy from Moor Nook. 

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